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Rice ready to return, but who else will catch on?
The question of when Russell Wilson will make his first NFL start has been answered. It will happen Friday night. Now the question is: Who will the rookie quarterback be throwing to in the Seahawks’ third preseason game against the Chiefs in Kansas City?
About the only two givens at this late point in the preseason – and with the first roster cut from 89 to 75 players looming on Monday – are that Doug Baldwin will be the slot receiver and Sidney Rice will be the flanker.
Baldwin won’t play against the Chiefs after having fluid extracted from a troublesome hamstring this week, and Rice will make his preseason debut at Arrowhead Stadium after spending most of the summer in a red no-contact jersey to protect his surgically repaired shoulders.
But who will replace Mike Williams at split end? And who might be the fourth wide-out in the four-receiver sets? And, while we’re wondering, who fills the fifth and possibly sixth spots on the 53-man roster from the 13 wide-outs on the current roster?
Kippy Brown, who coaches the position, can only wish he had the answers to those questions.
“The competition is as open as it could be. It couldn’t be any more open,” Brown said after Wednesday’s practice, when he continued to mix and match his receiver in trying to find the most-productive groupings.
“It’s an interesting deal. Everybody is playing hard and trying hard. There are only so many reps. So there are going to be some difficult decisions.”
The team has signed a couple of veteran receivers to spice the competition – Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards. But while Edwards made a nice play on a touchdown pass from Wilson in the preseason opener, Owens looked like a player who last played in the league in 2010 and was coming off only six practices in Saturday night’s preseason game in Denver.
The group of holdovers includes the athletic and acrobatic Golden Tate, a second-round draft choice in 2010; Deon Butler, a third-round pick in 2009 who shared the NFL lead with 15 preseason receptions in 2010 but is averaging 6.5 yards on four catches this summer; Kris Durham, a big target (6 feet 6, 216 pounds) with speed who was a fourth-round draft choice last year; Ricardo Lockette, the fastest player on the team; and Ben Obomanu, who in his seventh season is the longest-tenured receiver with the Seahawks.
The group of newcomers includes rookie free agents Phil Bates, Jermaine Kearse and Lavasier Tuinei as well as Charly Martin, a third-year pro who was in Walla Walla.
Back to the root of the question at hand: Who steps up to claim the available roster spots?
“Every year you go through this,” Brown said. “You have young guys that are trying as hard as they can to make the team. They’re giving great effort. Then the older guys are trying to hold onto their jobs. So it’s good competition and it’s a good problem to have because we do have some talent there.”
Like everyone else, Brown is waiting for someone in his group to step up and show that talent on a consistent basis.
The leading receiver in the preseason is rookie running back Robert Turbin, with five receptions. After Butler, the three receivers with three catches are tight ends Anthony McCoy and rookie Sean McGrath and running back Vai Taua. Then there’s Edwards, who has two catches and a 25.5-yard average. But of the other six players with two receptions, Tate is the only wide-out in the group.
Regardless of who the starting quarterback is for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against the Cardinals in Arizona – Wilson or free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn – he’ll need a better show of hands from the wide-outs than that.
That’s why getting Rice healthy and back in the flow is so vital. He began practicing this week for the first time without the red jersey, which was deemed necessary because he had surgery on one shoulder in January and another on the other in February.
“The first time they took my jersey, to say the least I was (perturbed) – when they took my blue jersey and made me wear the red,” said Rice, sweat dripping from his face after his second full-go practice. “It sucks coming out here just going through individuals drills and not being able to be on the field and get the work in with your teammates.
“They’re out here busting their tails everyday trying to make this organization one of the top in the league. So I want to be a part of that.”
Rice has been making up for lost time the past two days, including on the first pass of team drills Tuesday when he was, well, drilled by Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas after making a catch.
Perturbed for another reason? Hardly. Rice bounced up and gave Thomas a thanks-I-needed-that pat.
“Earl pulled up, but he still laid one on me and knocked me down,” Rice said.
The first to react? Pete Carroll. “I get up off the ground and coach comes running over, ‘Yeah. Yeah. That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what you need,’ ” Rice said through a smile. “And that’s definitely what I needed.”
What Rice needs next – in addition to his first snaps of the preseason against the Chiefs – is for someone else to step up and give the passing game what it needs.
“There’s a lot of talent – starting with T.O. on down the line to the rookies,” Rice said. “It’s a lot of talent and there’s going to be some tough decisions here in the next couple of weeks (the cut to 53 comes next Friday).
“I feel like all the guys we have in this receiving group definitely have a chance here or on another team.”